The key to angling success in February is the ability to adapt to ever-changing conditions. Severe fronts move through on a weekly basis, drastically changing the water temperature and clarity. Wind will prevent anglers from fishing the open waters in north Sarasota Bay. Extreme low winter tides will chase fish off the flats. So, let’s go through a typical winter weather cycle that would be experienced on a fishing charter in the winter.
A severe front has just moved through. The water temperature has dropped several degrees and there is a blue-bird sky with bright sun and a northeast wind. The northeast wind will fight the tide, making it even lower than normal. And it can be downright chilly. Flats near the passes will be flooded with dirty water from the churned up Gulf of Mexico. Finding clean, protected water will be a priority.
The area south of Siesta Drive down to Blackburn Pt. usually stats clearer and offers protection from the north wind. Oyster bars, canals, and docks will be good places to soak a shrimp for sheepshead, drum, and other species. On low tide the trout, pompano, and ladyfish will concentrate in deeper water. This can be the Intracoastal channel or any deep water. As the tide floods the flats and the day warms up the fish will move out of the holes and onto the nearby flats. Casting jigs and live shrimp while drifting the flats is the preferred technique.
After a couple of days the wind will shift to the southeast and it will be warm and sunny. The water in the passes will be clearer and fishing will be good throughout the area. Both passes will hold pompanp, bluefish, and ladyfish. Jigs, spoons, and live shrimp will all produce.
This is the best time to surf fish for whiting, silver trout, pompano, flounder, and more. The water will be clean and calm with an east wind. A live shrimp or piece of frozen shrimp fished on the bottom works best.
Any Structure in or near the passes should be thick with sheepshead. Bottom fishing with live or frozen shrimp will produce the best. Anchoring a cast away up-current and allowing the bait to drift back to the structure in a natural manner is the best presentation. A #1 live bait hook on a 2’ piece of 30 lb leader and a bit of weight is the best rig. Use just enough weight to barely hold the bottom.
Grass flats in four to seven feet of water will be good for speckled trout, silver trout, pompano, bluefish, sea bass, flounder, and ladyfish. Again, drifting and casting jigs and live shrimp works best. The flats near the passes are always a goiod place to start but any flat can produce. The key is to keep moving until fish are located; don’t spend too much time in an unproductive spot. Gold, rootbeer/gold, olive, and glow are popular colors. Scented baits such as Gulp! Can make the difference on a tough day.
After a couple of days of nice weather, another front will approach. As this occurs the wind will turn south, then southwest and start to blow fifteen to twenty knots. Often times the fish will bite like crazy as they sense the weather change coming. The south wind will flood the bays with water, tides will be higher than normal. This is a good time to target snook and reds in shallow water. Casting gold spoons or jigs will fool them.
Trout will be actively feeding on the deep flats. The wind will require anglers to find a little protection. The west side of Sarasota Bay north of New Pass has excellent flats and is protected on a south wind. Structure in Big Pass on the north end of Siesta is also protected and is a great spot for sheepshead.
Snook move up into the creeks and canals in winter and the high afternoon tides are a good time to target them. Plugs and jigs cast are to structure and worked back in an erratic manner. Big jack crevelle will also seek refuge in these areas in the cooler months.
As the front moves through the wind will turn northwest and blow hard. This pretty much shuts down fishing for a day or two. The wind will shift northeast and the whole process will repeat itself.
Be aware of the effects of local weather patterns and you can be very successful fishing in February.